Former ACWA Executive Director Steve Hall Dies at 58

SACRAMENTO – Stephen K. Hall, a respected water leader who played a central role in some of the biggest achievements in recent California water policy history, died Jan. 19, 2010, after a lengthy battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 58.

Hall served as executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies from 1993 until his retirement in 2007. During his 30-year career in water, he worked to bring diverse interests together and advance policies to address the state’s water supply challenges.

“Steve Hall made a lasting mark as a water professional,” ACWA President Paul Kelley said. “He brought a unique brand of leadership to the table when it was needed most and forged relationships that transcended political and ideological circles. Steve’s ability to bring people together was a determining factor in some of the key water successes of our time.”

Timothy Quinn, who succeeded Hall as ACWA’s executive director in 2007, called him a tireless advocate for a comprehensive water policy for the state. “Steve spent decades fighting for solutions that work for farms, cities and the environment. I’m honored to have worked beside him for many of those years. His contributions helped set the stage for the historic water legislation enacted last fall.”

Hall is survived by his wife, Pamela; two grown children, Jennifer and Adam; and three grandchildren. He is also survived by his parents, Wayne and Lois Hall; his brother, Mark; and his sister, Anita.

A consensus builder who was at the forefront of the water community’s work to find solutions, Hall is credited with helping to break long-running gridlock and forge agreements that laid the groundwork for the landmark Bay-Delta Accord signed in 2004. He played a primary role in the so-called “three-way” negotiations that led to creation of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program and paved the way for passage of Proposition 204 of 1996 and Proposition 13 of 2002, which provided funding for water management projects and programs statewide.

On drinking water issues, Hall was also a strong advocate for science-based regulations that protect public health in a cost-effective manner. He testified numerous times before the stateLegislature, Congress and regulatory bodies on contaminants such as MTBE, arsenic, radon and perchlorate.

Hall was actively involved in local government issues such as property tax revenue shifts and governance. He was a key player in protecting the fiscal stability of special districts as well as in achieving meaningful reform of special district governance legislation.

He was also a leading advocate for strategies to address invasive species, reform the federal Endangered Species Act, and resolve water supply and ecosystem problems in the Delta.

Early in his tenure with ACWA, Hall directed a strategic planning process known as Vision 2000 that led to creation of a regional structure for ACWA and a more streamlined Board of Directors. The changes paved the way for ACWA to become a more activist organization with a sharper focus on regional and grassroots outreach. He also oversaw establishment of ACWA’s Regulatory Affairs Department and expanded the association’s regulatory advocacy.

More recently, Hall led a year-long effort to develop ACWA’s recent water policy document, “No Time to Waste: A Blueprint for California Water.” Developed with input from local water leaders throughout the state, the document recommended a comprehensive suite of actions and investments to ensure California has the water supply system it will need in the coming decades. It also served as the basis of the “California’s Water” series for public television produced by Huell Howser and underwritten by ACWA members.

Even after his retirement in 2007 as the effects of ALS made it difficult to work, Hall continued to advocate for legislation on ALS at the state Capitol. His motto became, “As much as I can for as long as I can.”

Over the course of his career, Hall served in a variety of appointed and advisory capacities to Governors Deukmejian, Wilson, Davis and Schwarzenegger. He served on the boards of directors of the California Water Institute and the California Infrastructure Coalition. He also served on the State Reclamation Board, the UC Davis Land, Air and Water Advisory Committee and the California Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee.

Born in Greenland in 1951, Hall began his water career in 1976 as manager of the Tulare Lake Drainage District. In 1985, he was tapped to serve as executive director of the non-profit Land Preservation Association, where he became well versed in the issues of agricultural drainage and the search for solutions on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

He became executive director of the newly formed California Farm Water Coalition in 1989 and quickly made a name for himself as a dynamic speaker. He was sometimes paired on the speaking circuit with Cadillac Desert author Marc Reisner, providing an effective counterpoint to the late writer’s assertions about agricultural water use.

Hall earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and economics from California State University, Fresno in 1973. He graduated from the California Agricultural Leadership Program in 1982.